Most writers are possessive of their work. Just like mothers develop babies for months before introducing them to the world, authors often feel their pieces are precious cargo. They take great care in sheltering them from the cold, harsh world until they’re ready for public consumption. The problem is, they rarely are.
The flipside of writers’ desire to protect their “babies” is that they’re not convinced their babies are ever ready for the world. That’s when collaboration can be a lifesaver.
The Big Picture
Every author needs a second set of eyes. Writers are so close to their masterpieces that they are unable to step back and see their work objectively. They become myopic, missing the minor details that can make a major difference in the quality of the content. This can create a Monet unintentionally – it looks great from far away, but up close, it’s a mess.
Successfully doing brain surgery on yourself is as unlikely as editing your own work. Beyond catching your grammatical mistakes or spelling errors, you likely don’t notice your own tendency to use the word “transparency” a dozen times a chapter. Someone has to save you from your run-on sentences!
The big-picture benefits aren’t relegated to clean-up, of course. Collaboration can help you overcome writers’ block, regain motivation on a project, or develop focus. Multiple contributors can bounce ideas off each other and grow stories together; look at a sitcom like “Seinfeld,” with in-depth stories created via collaboration. The notion that a writer needs to be a recluse is outdated – and controversy, caused by multiple perspectives, is often more intriguing to readers than mere facts!
Nonfiction vs. Fiction Needs
The benefits of collaborating on a nonfiction piece may be more obvious; it’s easier to break up the work. For example, if you and I were partnering to craft a book on building birdhouses, you might do the general writing while I create step-by-step instructions. If we decided to produce an eBook on quilting, you’d be responsible for researching the materials used, while I’d put together patterns.
However, fiction writers aren’t out of luck. Remember that a lot goes into creating a work of fiction; brainstorming, storyboarding, artwork, writing, and editing all play roles. Most existing authors have professionals help them with these areas. Unpaid writers deserve to have sounding boards to help refine their work – or gently talk them into flushing their worst ideas.
It’s also a mistake to think that collaboration automatically means co-authorship. Collaboration can be big or small, all-inclusive or singularly focused. Someone may help you illustrate your ideas with graphics, but that doesn’t mean you’d both be listed as authors. Most writers don’t have huge arsenals of resources, so they need help from friends, family, and online communities.
When You May Not Want to Cut the Cord
While collaboration is massively beneficial to most writers, there are a few situations where it may not be a good idea.
Not everyone is capable of working with others. If you tend to get irritable when delving into teamwork-oriented tasks, reconsider.
Not every potential partner will be a good fit. Collaboration is pointless if you have the wrong collaborator. If you can’t both check your egos at the door, you’re better off on your own.
Some people are procrastinators at heart. If you put things off, struggle with indecisiveness, or fear judgment, it’s best to write fast and then edit. This will prevent you from using the “process” as an excuse to delay.
A talented editor can work wonders; he’s attentive to details, uses a methodical approach, and relinquishes emotional attachment to the content. You may think these phrases describe you, but even if you’re a former spelling bee champion, you should never edit your own work. You’re too quick to defend or take offense to suggestions that may legitimately improve your piece. Nothing else turns readers off more than sloppy mechanics, so don’t do this alone, no matter how resistant you are to collaborating.
It’s hard to let your child enter the brutal world without holding his hand every step of the way. But, like any good parent, you know it’s in his best interest to get out there. Collaboration will give you the confidence to let the world see your pride and joy – it will do you good, too.